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Anxiety

Thoughts, Uncategorized

Thanksgiving and 31 flavors of joy

November 29, 2017

I’ve really been getting into joy lately. I think because sometimes, if I’m not careful, joy can feel like a bit of a unicorn. And, let’s be honest, who wants to live in a world where the most pleasant of emotions is as rare as a leprechaun sighting in Alabama? (Or is that really rare, after all?)

Here’s the thing, I fight fear like most people fight the flu; proactively minimizing my exposure and sniffing out supplements to stack the deck. That’s not only for my own sanity (though that’s the primary reason), but also to prove a point. Because sometimes I think those who seek to instill fear get the most pleasure out of creating the illusion that it exists. It’s the scary music. The mask. Sometimes I think that gets them off even more than carrying out the actual act that elicits the fear. I’m trying to strip it of its power. I’m trying to diffuse the pressure cooker of potential catastrophes lurking in both my imagination and my newsfeed.

It’s a work in progress. Some days I notice every nuance of the sunrise and some days I hyperventilate over whether my children will see their twenties.

But this past week I was so aware of joy, you guys. I was bathing in it. It felt more tangible than it’s felt in months. I could hear it, see it, taste it. Joy! In all its delicious flavors.

Why? I don’t know … lots of reasons. As the years go by, Thanksgiving becomes one of my favorite holidays. It brings some of my most treasured traditions. The 4-mile race, cold and challenging. It wakes me up and makes me uncomfortable in that way that can only be followed by extreme elation once complete. Then we go out for a warm, carb-loaded, maple syrup-soaked breakfast with a flowing stream of creamed coffee. Everything tastes like joy after a chilly trot in 30-degree weather.

Then I love going home to watch the parade with the girls, waiting for Santa to come down a crowded New York street, confetti flying around his jolly bearded head. Then the dog show, with the wild-haired breeds no one’s ever heard of. I savor the satisfaction of packing up the food we’ve prepared to share – this year, cucumber sandwiches, crescent rollups with garlic and red pepper and a vanilla bundt cake – and loading everyone into the car.

For the past few years, Hank’s Grandma Marge hadn’t been well. I remember two years ago on Thanksgiving, we all took pictures with Grandma, an unspoken nod to the reality of her condition and fleeting time with her beautiful face. This year, there was talk of babies and ripples of laughter. Life, it seems, has gone on, and there is still joy to be had. Next year, there will be a new beautiful face at our dinner. A sweet little boy.

Friday morning, all I had to do was have Hank get the red and green totes out of the attic for the chicks to release their unbridled cheer all over the first floor of our house. JoJo pulled out every homemade ornament we had – stick-on jewels and stretch cotton ball beards – and hung them on everything standing still. Every thing. She put a string of plastic snowflakes around the handle for the freezer. She threw gold glittered Christmas trees in potted plants. She was running around like Buddy the Elf at Gimbel’s. Joy! I said to myself as I saw it run past. This is what joy looks like!

And then there’s my Spike and her powder pink ukulele. I hear her sometimes, strumming the strings in a quiet corner of an empty room. She’s more of a songwriter, see. She’s about the lyrics. After two days of mumbling along with an unfamiliar melody, my brunette beauty came out and told me she was ready to share her song. She sat down, wearing nothing but a camp t-shirt and a pair of fuzzy boots, and she poured her little heart out.

Mya from Courtney Leach on Vimeo.

It was a song about Mya, who is our dog. But this tune was not about our dog, specifically. Mya was the name of the fictional dog who runs away in the song. It’s moving … haunting, and I’m kicking myself for stopping the video just shy of her dramatic finish; three deliberate strums and unbroken eye contact. She was so proud of herself and her moving tribute to puppies, even though she hasn’t been able to replicate the tune since. Joy, in the key of who the hell cares.

Saturday we lit the lights at my parents’ house. The Grand Lighting, as we call it. Every year, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, my mom works her ass off to make all our favorites – turkey, deviled eggs, stuffing, broccoli salad, gravy and mashed potatoes – and we all sit around laughing over the same stories we’ve been laughing about for 30 years, while Dad bitches about outlets and breakers.

It’s one of those traditions steeped in self-inflicted inconvenience. My dad’s dad, Red, was huge on Christmas displays. In turn, my dad was. Until one year, he wasn’t. But the damage had been done. We all had expectations by that point. Not to mention the grandkids who’d come along by then. And so, with my mom taking over the helm, the exterior illumination show has gone on. And we, the display’s humble admirers, still stumble outside, bellies full and wine in hand, to watch as the strings of twinkle lights shine for the first time. And it’s one of my favorite nights of the year.

We sat down for a round of Cards Against Humanity afterward. I’m tellin’ ya, you just haven’t lived until you’ve heard your mother utter the phrase, “tasteful sideboob” or “Lance Armstrong’s missing testicle”. The sound of joy.

The final day of our long weekend was also Mom’s birthday. Matt took over Big Breakfast to give our folks a little break. This family tradition is rich in joy; loud, sticky, buttery joy. The people I love most in my life, sleepy eyed in plaid pajama pants, gathering around mugs of strong coffee and plates of dippy eggs. The cousins – an army of girls punctuated by one teenage boy – flip in the front room, meandering in here and there to claim cinnamon rolls. The only rule at Big Breakfast is to come as you are.

And finally, last night I watched my three little girls hang a full tote of Hallmark ornaments on our happy little Christmas tree. One by one they picked up the ballerinas, the snowmen and the penguins wearing ice skates, and assigned them to the perfect branch. The Grinch was playing in the background, stealing their attention here and there. I should have made them go to bed by 8. I should have turned the movie off. But, the joy … oh, the joy.

The more I learn to grab it when I see it, the more I think joy is always there. Sometimes it’s concealed in discomfort, like change or unexpected news. Sometimes it takes awhile to shine through. But it’s there.

Sometimes it’s true, I have to kill a fair amount of fear so the joy has room to grow, but, like I said, I’m working on it. Worry will be the most overpowering weed in the garden if you let it. And Lord knows it’s easy to let it. But joy is where it’s at, I’m tellin’ ya. Joy is the remedy and the resolution. Let it filter in through every crack and see you through every shadow. Feel it, taste it, hear it, smell it, look for it … every day, everywhere.

Wanderlust

Biscuits back on the AT, Miles 14.3-21.1

May 3, 2017

I gradually woke up, cozy and rested on the side o–

Oh, shoot. That’s a lie. There goes my silly mind, romanticizing things again. Let me stop here and throw ‘er in reverse.

I woke up to the adolescent cackles of Just Matt and The General tooting and talking about their high school buddies in the tent above us. None of nature’s alarm clocks – the rose-gold sun, or the prattling river, or the amorous birds – would gently rouse the ledge full of tuckered out travelers from their hard-earned slumber. These two idiots would. When those clowns were up, everyone was.

The best breakfast I had on our trip was the one I had on the side of that mountain. My Trader Joe’s instant coffee with cream and sugar and – what else – freeze-dried Biscuits and Gravy, combined and expanded like a warm sponge in my depleted body and warmed me up. I wanted more than my half.

I sat the Mountain House bag of milky remnants next to the tent and went about my minimal hygienic upkeep. I pulled my toothbrush out first. My hand shook as I forced the very last of my travel-size tube of toothpaste out onto the frozen, matted bristles. I stepped back to pace the trail as I lathered up my gums. Then, something stopped me. It felt like lukewarm vomit spreading out over my foot. But it wasn’t. It was the soupy white remnants rapidly escaping the blue Mountain House bag and saturating my last pair of clean hiking socks; sparing the fabric only where the straps of my Tevas crossed. Frickin great, man. Now my pack not only smelled like 3 days worth of butt, but dehydrated sausage juice as well.

We started up the trail for what would be our final day of hiking. You know when you go for a jog and sometimes you have it, and sometimes you don’t? Well, on this morning, on this section of dirt, I just didn’t have it. Gravy went up ahead of me, focused on reaching the privy at the Gooch Mountain Shelter, just over a mile ahead. Just Matt kept me in sight for a bit, but eventually his Sasquatch stride naturally separated us. I felt weak and weighted. Every step required more energy than it should have. I started pounding the Rx Bars and Snickers I’d stashed in my waist pack pockets. I sucked on an energy Blok and hoped for the best.

But then, I was reminded of a phrase uttered frequently on our first venture to the Appalachian Trail, and it ignited an important conversation with myself: Hike your own hike, Courtney. Look around you. What’s your hurry? By dinner, this will all be over and you’ll wish you were starting again. My body was sending me signals to slow down and enjoy the journey and I was trying to juice it up and speed things along. And why? So I could breeze past the white blazes I’d been looking forward to seeing for months? I had to listen in the quiet, not rage against the voice. I pried my eyes up off my feet and regarded the tendrils of rich emerald leaves. The birthmarks on the trunks to my left and to my right. The sounds of the forest starting its day and getting down to the business breathing, sprouting, spreading, creating new life.

We stopped at Gooch Gap for a snack. I’d created the perfect trail mix of granola, Traders Joe’s Omega Trek Mix and Simply Almonds, Cashews and Chocolate, and I was now hammering it like a savage by the filthy handful. An elderly couple came down the path behind us and crossed the road to pick up the AT on the other side. “Hey guys, I’m going to go ahead since I’m slower today,” I said. The truth was, I was just happy to see people whose pace I could certainly match. I imagined the stories they would tell me about their time on the trail, their past. Maybe this was their 10th time doing the whole thing. Maybe they were just out for a section.

But it was a story I’d never actually hear. Because, you guys, they dusted my ass. Those two old birds traversed the AT like a pair of mountain lions and I sniffed their burnt rubber for at least a mile. The trails take all sorts of travelers, and the great ones have legs they’ve earned on the backs of boulders and jagged peaks. I had to admit, I’d just been schooled by a set of septuagenarians on making assumptions and respect for those who’ve put in the mileage.

We had a lot of company that morning in Georgia. One gentleman, from Florida, stopped The General to review his map.

“He’ll never make it,” The General said, after the kid walked on. “I can tell you within 3 minutes of talking to these people which ones are going to pull it off, and which ones are out of their league.”

As I write this, nearly 3,500 hikers are en route to Katahdin, and about 500 are heading south to Springer Mountain. Statistics tell us about one-third of these ambitious men and women (and children) will actually make it. This guy seemed to be struggling to navigate both the elements and the route, both of which have the ability to bend you over their knee and break you like a bitch.

After a few brutal climbs, we came to an overlook at Ramrock Mountain. It was sunny, beautiful. A collection of thru-hikers had gathered to eat Clif bars and chat. I saw the guy in a kilt and the woman with a dog who thought I was the other woman with a dog from the day before, a pair of girls clearly just out of college, Just Matt, and the elderly couple from earlier.

“Man, I tried to keep up with you two, but you were too quick for me!” I said, playfully, like a granddaughter would.
And just like a grandmother would, the woman smiled sheepishly, first at her husband and then at me, and said, “Oh, honey, I’m sorry. We could have waited for you if you were looking for someone to walk with.”

In my mind, they laughed and high fived each other the second I turned away. Thrilled at the fact they’d straight smoked another unsuspecting youngin. I wanted them to be my grandparents so bad.

Just Matt was antsy, and mentioned he hadn’t eaten anything since 3 p.m. the day prior. The promise of real food, namely a cheeseburger, gave him the strength he needed in this moment to push on and persist up the mountain. Before I could put my pack back on, he was gone. Tank was waiting at Woody Gap just over a mile away. He was ready for the reunion, for the road, for the beef.

Gravy had arrived and agreed to wait for The General, so I could go ahead. Truth be told, I kind of liked walking alone for a change.

As a society, we are searching. We think if we meditate, if we unplug, if we administer a digital detox, if we journal, if we cut out sugar, or gluten, or dairy, or red meat, we will unlock the hidden temple of peace. Myself included. I am, perhaps, the deepest worshiper of these beliefs. But honestly, I think the answers we want are already in us – bouncing around somewhere in the landfill of our frantic minds. If you spend enough time digging around up there, if you wait around long enough, and let all the crap filter out, the things you really want to hear will settle at the bottom. They’ll come to you.

Walking does that. Walking gives us enough time.

Somewhere between Moana lyrics and organizing our new camper, unbelievable truths appeared to accompany me on the trail. All the shit that typically gets diluted in the noise of motherhood and my career were suddenly barefaced in the solitude of the woods. I had to listen. Really listen. But they were in there.

I’ve been standing at the edge of the water – Long as I can remember – Never really knowing why … I could pack the girls’ clothes in the collapsible laundry basket and then use it for dirty clothes, and then if I get that 31 tote … I need to challenge myself more. I can’t remember the last time I felt like this. Gosh, Courtney, remember when you used to set big goals? Where’d that girl go? … Every turn I take – every trail I track – every path I make – every road leads back, to the place I know – where I cannot go – Where I long to be … Ah! My ankle just turned. That hurt. OK, we’re good … What should I do next? I need to clean up my diet, that’s what I need to do … Am I a good mother? I wonder what my kids will say about me when they’re older … That girl has those cute pants like Lydia had. Ask her where she got them. Just ask her. Ask her. Ask her. Ugh! Great, now she’s gone and I’m going to have to spend an hour on Pinterest tracking these pants down.

Still wearing my down vest and pants, I was really starting to sweat in the 70-plus-degree heat. I knew I had to be nearing the end of the section, so I decided to stop at a small water source and wait for my husband and The General, so we could finish together. One by one, the thru-hikers came. First, the guy in the kilt and the gal with the dog. They slowed and eventually agreed they’d get water.

“Where are you guys stopping tonight?” the gentleman asked.
“Actually, we’re getting off just up here at Woody Gap.” I said.
“Oh, wow! So you’re really almost done then.” the gal commented.
“Yup! We like to do this for our spring break. Then it’s back to reality and kids and jobs and responsibility,” I whined.
“Yeah, I hear that. I’ve been missing my kids,” the guy said.
“You have kids?” the girl asked, surprised. Which surprised me because I assumed these two were trailmates and had likely already covered this territory. I was also admittedly surprised that a young guy like this who had walked the AT, he claimed, several times had a wife and a kid. I mean it takes the assemblage of a small army and a willing village for Gravy and I to take off and do this for 5 days. And that’s just 5 days. Again, I’d fallen into the pit of assumptions. I had more in common with kilt guy than I’d thought.

After what felt like 40 minutes, I gave up on the rest of my party showing up and decided to walk into Woody Gap alone. I tiptoed over a waterfall, jumped from boulder to boulder, came around a bend in the trail and there it was, the parking lot. I was heartsick that it was over, to be honest. All the preparation and the anticipation and the effort would quietly absorb into the stories I would tell of our time on the trail in just a few steps.

I came upon Just Matt, who’d changed into shorts and a T-shirt, sitting in Tank. The truck was running and he looked like he was ready to hit the gas at the first signal. Gravy and The General came up about 10 minutes after me. The General was quick to tell the story of his run in with the thru-hikers, at the same water source where I’d left them.

“They asked if Hank was your husband and said he’d just missed his wife. Then I said, ‘Who? Biscuits?!’ and they proceeded to tell us that your trail names were too easy, too basic.” I think he felt offended since The General had assigned those names to us about a year ago and a few hundred miles north (as a crow flies). I wasn’t offended. I smelled too bad to take offense to anything. The General went to the public restroom to bathe in baby wipes, and then we all climbed into Tank and started the vomit-inducing road out of the mountains. It was like an evil snake with no tail, you guys. It went on for years. I was green.

Eventually we came to a straight away where a Wendy’s, nestled inside a gas station, sat, waiting for my carnivorous brother. The Masters were on. Not a word was spoken. Just the sounds of bun and burger being shredded by teeth and jostled around between gums and dry lips. They were burgers 3 days in the making. This stop would be followed by dinner at a Big Boy outside of Cincinnati at 9:45 p.m. that night. Only at a greasy restaurant whose mascot is a tubby boy in checkered overalls is it acceptable to order a side of what I believe to be doctored up tartar sauce to dip your french fries in. And you bet your sweet ass I did.

As the space between my body and my typical life shrunk, I felt myself slipping back into my routine. I frantically returned to the 800 minuscule worries and tasks I’d set aside while walking. I sat, curled up in the back seat, watching light poles tick by and thinking about the ground I’d covered. I was smiling, longingly, like the way you smile when you see a new mom with a fresh little baby and you think about your own days of rocking and smelling and squeezing soft little butt cheeks.

My friends think I’m crazy. Acquaintances politely regard the hobby as “interesting”. But it’s so much more than privy pots on cold mornings and rodents. When I think about backpacking, I think about my comfort zone. I think about the reward that comes on the other side of obstacles and the way getting there changes me. Every time I do something that brings me off autopilot and forces me to reconnect with my instincts, I feel stronger, clearer, more awake in this life. When I’m counting my steps, working my way slowly up the side of a steep summit, I feel so aligned. I feel like my mind and body are communicating for the first time in months. Like I can hear the screams that are typically muffled by mundane responsibility and my own self doubt.

And again, there’s that word … perseverance.

I love the concept of perseverance. More than anything, I want my girls to know that they can, and should, always persevere over what hinders, haunts or hurts them. I – and they – have unimaginable strength sleeping just on the other side of fear. If it’s scary, that’s OK. If it hurts, all the better. Sometimes, it’s those feelings that surge in the pit of your stomach that signal it’s all going to be worth it. That’s what backpacking does for me. It frightens me just enough to stretch my limits and takes me to that uncomfortable place where change resides.

I have anxiety, right? And I think people who struggle with the constant dripping faucet of anxiety can understand when I say that a normal day, week, month, sometimes feels like walking through a rose bush. As lovely as the flowers can be, it also leaves hundreds of tiny little cuts. The journey often leaves me bleeding, aching and irritated, but the bouquet in the end keeps me coming back. Being out there, in the unadulterated air, with my thoughts and the crunch of my boots, smooths over the gashes. It heals me. It tastes like sun tea with honey and rose petals and feels like my oldest t-shirt. At least for a few days. It’s the same feeling I get when I put my ear to my daughter’s chest and listen to her heartbeat. Each thud sends purpose surging through me.

And it’s the culture of the trail, the people. To be frank, there are times it’s hard to be a human in this world in its current condition. I panic about our future and the abuse of basic rights I’ve taken for granted. But with no phone, no push notifications, no “breaking” anything, it all feels a lot simpler. The current events of the trail are related to weather conditions and record setters, not press conference blunders and cruel, unthinkable acts that my heart just can’t seem to process. I feel safe around this species. The people you pass (98 percent of them, at least) want to know how your journey is going, and help if you need it and encourage you and stand under the majesty of what God gave us with you. It’s the softer, more digestible version of humanity.

We’ve been off the AT for about a month now. The chicks ask about the mountains a lot, and tell us they can’t wait to join us on the Appalachian Trail, and every fiber of my being hopes that day comes. Nothing would make the path sweeter than having my daughters’ footprints beside my own and their fingers against the white bark of a blaze.

Until we meet the path again, I’ll go in search of smaller, closer trails, and that same revealing quiet. I want to thank everyone who asked about our small adventure and followed these posts. I hope it awakens your wanderlust and leads you to a corner of the world that heals what aches in you.

Read about Miles 6.2-14.3

Read about Miles 0-6.2

Read about Miles 28.3-30.7 + Springer Mountain

Mindfulness

Drop the damn bananas

July 21, 2016

What if I just let go?
What if I dropped all the weight, right here, right now?
What if I managed to slip away?

Like the majority of my fellow estimated 152 million bloggers pounding the keys somewhere in the world right now, this particular platform is not my primary source of income. [I’ll pause here so you can recover from that shock. We good? OK.] Yes, I have an honest-to-goodness 9-to-5 job in the corporate world. You know, the one. Where women wear smart skirt suits with white tennis shoes and everyone keeps a carpal tunnel brace in their top drawer for days when it’s damp outside. This is just my side gig. My alter ego.

One of the perks of my big girl job is that I get to do a lot of writing and a lot of editing. One of my favorite people to work with is my main man Dr. Dave. You know that dance you do when engaging in a conversation with a hyper-intelligent human being … When you nod on the outside and say things like, “How interesting,” and “Huh. Really?” but inside your brain is like an Amazing Race contestant frantically trying to put the puzzle together? But then, like Steve drawing the final hint on Blue’s Clues (I will never acknowledge Joe), it’s all there. Bam! You get it. And it’s genius. Life-altering even. It’s the type of exchange that’s worth the work because the thought changes you. It expands and alters the makeup of your brain. That’s my entire relationship reading and listening to Dr. Dave. The guy has this gift for inspiring and shaking cores and soothing souls. Sometimes he takes a straight path to deliver his message, but often he invites you along on a series of unexpected U-turns and gravel paths before delivering you to the promise land. To the epiphany. Yeah … he’s one of those people.

Recently, Dr. Dave shared one of his favorite metaphors. It seems that some time ago, in a small village in India, there was an obnoxious monkey population. The primates were so numerous, in fact, the townspeople decided to round them all up and take them to a lovely little monkey farm in the country somewhere, where they would have a better life and live out the rest of their monkey days. To catch them, the people would place a bunch of bananas inside an upside-down bamboo cage with fairly narrow bars. The animals would approach the cage, see the fruit, reach in and grab the banana. With their hands clenched tightly around the fruit, the monkeys couldn’t remove their arm from the cage. The harder and longer they would try, the louder their screams would get. This attracted more curious monkeys who would repeat the same imprisoning process. And thus the animals were had.

Of course the monkeys could have escaped easily if they would have just let go of the fruit. If they’d just drop the damn banana they would be free to go swing with their posse through the mossy trees and throw poo like little jungle punks. But they just couldn’t. They were panicking. They were frozen with fear. They were reacting. They were trapped. Then Dr. Dave went on to define what constitutes a banana for us – that being the feelings or actions or situations in your life that elicit a strong mental or physical response. Probably detrimental. Likely toxic. Definitely negative.

Holding Onto Bananas

After reading Dr. Dave’s piece, I spent nearly my entire 3-mile run the next morning thinking about my bananas; The toxic things that I cling to and the response they trigger in me. The noxious notions that infiltrate my thoughts and ridiculous requests I place on myself.

I hold onto sugar.
Boo hoo, I know. But truly I’ve long battled some sweet, sticky food addiction demons. Growing up, treats and large meals were a mark of celebration. I, in turn, have carried this tradition on to my own family. Frozen yogurt, brownies, greasy gyros from our favorite place … it all adds up to a slippery equation of food + happy = reward. And who doesn’t want to be rewarded? Like, all the time. The problem is I’ve come to a place where those little white granules (perhaps the poop of angels, I hypothesize) now own me. They control me. They take me so high and then drop me on my head. But no matter how many times I tell myself – usually in the haze of a sugar-induced hangover – that I am done, I end up following the syrupy trail right back to the honey pot.

I hold onto perfection.
Real talk for a second. I started an entire blog based on this concept. Based on the pursuit of a perfect balance between all of the parts of myself that battle for time and attention. I want to see the world. I want to stop screaming at my daughters. I want to cook with ingredients I pluck from an organic raised garden bed. I want to kill it at work. I want to be perfect at this blog where I write about my pursuit of perfection. With my body, with my habits, with my profession, with my parenting, I hold onto these unrealistic expectations for myself so tightly that I don’t even know what a feeling of perfection would smell, taste, look or feel like at this point even if I somehow managed to reach it. Sometimes I think it’s just easier to keep looking past where we are rather than live contently in all the messy, dirty, imperfect bits of ourselves. Defining yourself as a work in progress is the ideal guise for an existence riddled with rough edges.

I hold onto fear.
This is a huge one for me. I’ve talked about my anxiety and I’ve talked about my struggles with parenting in this violent world here before, but truly, the terror I live with runs crazy-deep. I attribute at least some of this to the fact that I am a prisoner of push notifications. My job requires me to be online for the majority of the day. My phone, my laptop, my desktop, my television, whatever it is, there’s some horrifying news alert popping up on it. Flashes of events that point to the demise of character and kindness and sanity and love for humanity flood my newsfeed and thus, my mind. In one of my more recent social media-induced meltdowns, my brother (you remember Just Matt) told me to get a grip and remember they’re just leaving out the good stuff.

My thought of the day for you regarding the world we live in … You’re better off not watching the news. It will make you a happier person. Something negative happens and they beat it to death to keep you tuned in. Try shutting it off. The world is full of wonderful people, so many caring and selfless things happen on a daily basis, but that isn’t what anyone focuses on. All any of us can do is help one another and love one another and raise our kids that way and to not let a few bad people keep them from loving every minute of the short life we all get. The kids and I will sometimes pick up a bill in a restaurant for someone. They love it and you have to think that it makes that person’s heart happy and makes them want to pass that feeling along to someone else. Bad things have happened since man was created and always will, but at the end of the day people are good, that just isn’t news. The positives far outweigh the negatives on a daily basis, but just like the evening news, we tend to focus 28 minutes on all of the negative and just set aside the last 2 minutes to talk about how a stranger donated an organ for some child they don’t even know so they can live a happy normal life and love their friends and family. So shut off the crazy people on the news and focus on all the awesome people you are surrounded by on a daily basis, like me for starters.

– he wrote

And he’s right. I know he’s right. But then I go to sleep and have vivid dreams of nuclear attacks and running through crazed streets grasping my sobbing children and all the horrible things the dark parts of our brain push aside during the daylight hours. And I wake up drenched in sweat and succumb to the fear. How can I protect them? What would I do if …? Why is the world so broken? I feel helpless and small and scared to death.

I hold onto my routine.
Ask anyone who’s close to me and they will tell you I live and die by my meticulous schedule. They’ll also tell you it’s annoying AF. Almost any hour of the day I can tell you where I’ll be and what I’ll be doing with about 80 percent accuracy. Any deviation from this cadence requires additional planning to compensate appropriately. Any unplanned deviation has the potential to send me spiraling downward … smoking engine, towering flames, the whole scene. The thing is, it annoys me, too! I swear it does. But it’s a survival mechanism. Unfortunately, to conquer the Everest that is training for a half marathon, dressing and getting 3 children ready to go, working a full day, making dinner, doing baths, menu planning, meditating and getting a semi-decent amount of sleep, only, mind you, to wake up and do the whole damn thing over the next morning, requires a solid plan. Otherwise the wheels just fall right off the wagon. But there’s certainly a strong argument for a little more flexibility. A little less rushing along and a little more “in the moment”. But if I’m really honest, even when I’m cutting loose and playing along with the pull of the universe, I’m still calculating the time lost and required compensations in my head. Maybe that’s just being a mom. Maybe that’s just me as a mom. Maybe I’m a total psycho who needs drugs and liquor.

Free Bird

It’s brutal holding onto these bananas. They’re rotten. And honestly, it’s exhausting. So much of my energy is pumped into fueling these cyclical habits that positively drain me. So, what would happen if I just dropped them? If I let go and pulled my arm back out of the cage? Would I be free? Could escaping anxiety and shedding all that extra weight really be that simple? That obvious? Something I could have just done 5 years ago? Am I held by a trap I set out for myself? I don’t know …

If only bananas weren’t so sweet. You know how I like my sugar.

Thoughts

Warrior in training

March 2, 2016

The Lord has an interesting way of moving and manipulating the universe in order to speak to us sometimes. In my case, today it was through Glennon Doyle Melton. Have you heard of Glennon? I hadn’t, really. I mean, I knew of her blog, Momastery, and had read a few posts as they turned up in other people’s feeds, but I wasn’t a devoted follower. I am now.

I’d been agonizing over what to post on here this week. So many people were kind enough to share with me their own private struggles with anxiety after I wrote about my trip to the ER last week, and everything I put together in the days following felt petty and unimportant by comparison.

The thing is, I shouldn’t have even been there today. Just 48 hours ago I had no plans to be in that auditorium, in that audience, in that seat or at that frighteningly relevant talk. A friend/co-worker mentioned that Glennon was coming yesterday morning and said it was that afternoon at 2pm, and I should join her. I, unfortunately, had a meeting at that time and wouldn’t be able to tag along. But, as fate would demand it, leap day had her thrown for a loop and the lecture was actually March 1. I was available, there were tickets left, and I just had that feeling. You know that feeling you get when stars align and your heart pushes your head aside and you just kind of go with it because the whole thing feels bigger than you and very destiny-driven? Like your second date with the man you married … or the time you picked up a cyclist with a flat tire and it turned out to be Dave Matthews or …. This was that on a smaller scale, but still, it was whispering to me.

Glennon

So, today, on the first day of a brand-new month, there I sat; 15 rows back from Glennon Doyle Melton giving a casual chat about, what else, anxiety, depression and the mentally different. She, it turns out, is a recovering addict, who has battled bulimia, anxiety and the lowest of the lows. She has emerged on the other side, an accomplished author, speaker and advocate. I will never be able to appropriately convey her stories or the comparisons she gave that turned on parts of my mind that I didn’t even realize were dark, or her passion for peace and self-acceptance, but I can sure as hell try. These were some of my favorite moments, and what I took away …

On being an anxious person. 
In preparation for her talk, she took a shower at the hotel and then began going over her notes. She got so anxious about the public speaking, she started sweating and had to shower again. “But that’s what we do. We just keep showering and keep showing up!”

On truth tellers. 
The Momastery founder is known for her brutally honest accounts of her struggles and full-disclosure (for the most part) approach to her work. And that’s a characteristic she shares with all folks, even the fellow mom at the park who inquires about her day. “We have a sign,” she said, making a slashing motion across her neck, “Craig will say, ‘Gosh, Glennon she’s just trying to push her kid on the swing.'” But she explained that her over-sharing and offering an honest account of how she’s feeling in the moment or through her writing is no different than someone who cuts themselves or eats too much or drinks too much or refuses to eat. They are saying how they feel and that something is off by hiding in a small place or habit where they feel entirely safe.  “We’re all truth tellers. Just in different ways.”

On the mentally different. 
Glennon shared a story about her Great Uncle, who worked in the coal mines where there would often be high amounts of toxic, dangerous chemicals. The workers would bring a canary, which had a higher tolerance for the harmful elements, down with them. When the bird stopped singing, they knew it was time to leave because it was too dangerous. If they stayed too long, the canary would die. “The longer I think about this and learn about this, I just know that some of us are canaries.” But instead of assuming those who notice what’s wrong or have heightened sensitivities should be silenced or sent away, perhaps, she suggests, they should be celebrated. “I mean, maybe we’re just the ones paying attention. There’s certainly a science and a poetry to it all.”

On pain. 
Many of us live under the false notion that pain will kill us. We treat it like a hot potato and often run from it, pass it off to some unsuspecting bystander through hurtful exchanges, or push it down as far as it will go so we can’t see it, smell it or taste it. But the truth is, pain won’t kill us. In fact, Glennon believes it does the opposite. “If you can sift through a crisis, you’ll often find you’re left with some sort of treasure.”

Everything we need to change or grow as a human being lives inside of pain.

Shortly after her marriage fell apart, she found herself in a hot yoga class. When the instructor asked her what her intentions were, Glennon, boiling over with raw, violent sorrow, simply said, “My intention is to get through whatever comes next.” The teacher told her just to sit still on her mat. So, she did. For 90 minutes she sat in the silence and anguish of her own personal pain. At the conclusion of the session, the instructor looked at her and said, “That is the journey of the warrior.”

“Pain is a traveling professor,” Glennon said. “Wise people invite it to come in and teach them.”

walkchild

On parenting. 
At one of her talks, Glennon had a concerned mother stand up and ask what she could do for her quiet 8-year-old son. “Give me 3 words to describe the kind of man you want him to be,” she said. The woman responded that she would love for her son to be kind, brave and intelligent. “All of those things come from pain,” Glennon explained. We spend so much time shielding our children from what we think will hurt them, and overthinking every word we say to them, but really all we can do is show up, every day, over and over and over and over again, and offer to walk through their pain with them. That, she suggests, is what will make them the strong, kind men and women we so desperately want them to be.

“It is not your job to fix your child’s pain.”

You can watch Glennon’s TED talk here and I 120% suggest that you do. Make time for it. Settle in for it. You won’t regret that you did. If this is what mentally different looks like, than I’m all in.

Wellness

I’ll take anxiety for $500, Captain Obvious

February 25, 2016

“Let me ask you a question,” the granola-looking ER doc said. “Do you have a lot of stress in your life?”
I let half of my mouth turn up into a smile as my brain began running through possible replies. “Is the Pope Catholic?” “Does Donald Trump love himself?” “Is tonight’s the most dramatic rose ceremony yet?” “Can Adele carry a tune?” Was this guy serious? I mean, I have dusty fan blades and clothes I’ve fluffed in the dryer 4 times and a smell in my car whose source I can’t identify and goal pants, sir. But instead, I landed on, “Sure, I mean, I have a job and three young kids, so … yeah, there’s some stress there.”

Sad

But let me back up. Saturday night, I hosted a handful of gals I used to work with for our monthly get together, a social appointment we refer to as Pretty & Plastered. It’s basically an excuse to do what we do best: eat, gossip and laugh like morons. (Sidenote: I’ve discovered a secret species of great friend – the ex-coworker. You know enough to engage in a convo about work and hate all the same people, but you don’t have the yuckiness over late TPS reports and botched presentations.) Around 1:30 a.m. the last of the girls headed out and I considered finishing the dishes, vetoed that option, ate a caprese kabob and tucked myself in upstairs next to an already-snoozing Hank. Now, you’re reading writing from a woman who’s no stranger to the spins. After a few glasses of wine … you’re feeling a little twirly … you’re having a hard time focusing … you’re toying with the idea of maybe throwing up a little … I’ve been there. I know those negotiations. This was different. My heart was racing, and it seemed to quicken the deeper I fell toward sleep. The rapid pace would jolt me back awake and I was panicked, but eventually I dozed off.

Sunday was a Big Breakfast Sunday and Hank was hunting, so I packed up the chicks and headed to my folks’. I felt a little off but thought the coffee was just strong. There was a frantic fire drill when my brother’s lab ran away, but the canine crisis was averted thanks to a facebook page dedicated to lost and found pups. (Can I get an amen over how amazing it is when technology comes in for the assist and allows people to help other people? Hallelujah!)

By noon my heart was back to the races. I was constantly aware of how uncomfortable it was. I looked down at my fitness tracker; normal pulse. So, I’m crazy. Thus began a control freak’s worst nightmare. It was a frightening personal paradox; the more I tried to gain control, the more control alluded me. I realized that day that control is a truly illusive little shit.

When you recognize that you kinda-sorta might be completely insane, you immediately want to make contact with someone who would understand such a dilemma. So I called my mom. “You’re having a panic attack,” she said. “I have them all the time and mine started at about your age. Breathe into a paper bag, take a hot bath and just try to relax.” I’VE BEEN TRYING TO RELAX, WOMAN! But I followed her prescription like it was the crazy person’s gospel. No change.

Time to call in the big dogs. I sent a text to my friend Jackie, the nurse.

Me: Jac, medical question … my heart is racing, only it’s really not. Can’t catch my breath. Mind is frantic. Anxiety, right? Not heart attack?
Jac: That’s what it sounds like to me. What is your pulse?
Me: Like 64
Jac: Try laying down or do some yoga breathing.
Me: But no need to go in, right? They can last a while?
Jac: It sounds like an anxiety attack. You probably feel dizzy from hyperventilating. With no chest pains and normal vitals. Try to rest. You are not dying. Text me in 15-30 minutes and let me know how you feel. Love you.

[45 minutes later]

Me: My heart feels like it’s racing.
Jac: Do you feel any better?
Me: No. So sorry to text so late.
Jac: Damn, you might want to go in just to put your mind at ease. Maybe they can give you something to relax. I am so sorry Court.

And, as is usually the case, she ended up being right. After 2 hours of fearing that if I fell asleep I would never wake up again, Hank finally called it and we decided to head into the ER. My brother came to sleep on the couch just like he did the night we had Sloppy Joan. It was like deja vu, only I knew I wasn’t coming home with anything cute and snuggly.

And that’s how I came to engage in a conversation about stress in the ER in the wee hours of Monday morning, strapped up to a bunch of circle things wearing nothing but my favorite boyfriend sweatpants, running shoes and a gown. My EKG in the triage room looked fine, so there wasn’t a lot of bustling about like on Grey’s (total letdown). They eventually moved us to a room and, i gotta tell you, it was so romantic. Right across the way was a woman, whose face I never saw, who loudly vomited for the entirety of our visit. She only paused long enough to shout, belligerently, “You’re laughing at me! Quit laughing at me!” Judging by the sounds coming from behind her curtain, I’m quite certain that no one was laughing.

My doc was a kind gentleman who looked like a bit of a hiker. He wore field pants and comfortable boots and spoke wisely and calmly. He ran through all of the possibilities and my health history – never proposing what I was beginning to accept as my diagnosis; I was a touch of the crazy. After a chest X-ray, urine sample, blood tests and EKG, it was decided that I was fit to be set free and my ticker was tocking just fine. It was the most expensive checkup I’ll probably ever get. But I’m forgetting the best part … the prize I did get to take home …

As we pinpointed anxiety as the culprit for my spastic heart (that wasn’t really spastic at all in the land of the normal people), the outdoorsy ER doctor made an offering. “Would you like something to help calm you at this point?” “Yes.” I said without consideration. I was going on 26 hours of feeling like I was seconds away from delivering the opening monologue at the Oscars. It was either take the pill or start pulling my hair out. My mistress had a name, and it was Ativan. She came on slowly but once her effects set in it was goodnight, Gracie. We left the hospital in the early morning hours.

I woke up at 3:30 Monday afternoon feeling like Snow White. I hadn’t slept that hard since I occupied the bedroom with no windows in our college house. Were the kids at school? I didn’t know. Did I tell my boss about my absence? Hadn’t the foggiest. But my heart was beating regularly and the sun was shining.

Bed

It seems odd, perhaps, to write about experiencing something so wacky, but the truth is, I’ve discovered that once you put your crazy out there, everyone starts to share that they have a little bit in them, too. Turns out that losing control completely is a somewhat popular pastime and I’m not the only working mother of three who feels 2 burritos short of a combo plate sometimes. Will it come back? I freaking hope not, but I’d guess yes. Can I stop it? The doctor said that eating well, avoiding excessive caffeine, exercising and meditating can help, so those should probably bubble up to the top of the ole’ agenda, but largely I think it’s just something that’s bound to pop up with the full moon.

The next day I had an email from my dad saying he liked the blog post about him and Mom from earlier in the week. And then:

Subj: Blog
From: Dad

On your panic attack, your mother and I have both been through that.  We both still fight it.  She does more than I do.  A counselor once told me that “Reality is what you perceive things to be”.  The panic attack is a screwed up sense of reality.  It is like in Divergent when they subject her to facing her fears.  She is in a total panic and then she realizes that it is not real.  Deep breaths and meditation can help.  You’ll figure it out.

Love you!

Dad

To which I responded:

Re: Subj: Blog
From: Courtney

Thanks, Dad. I love you! And thanks for the great genes there, bud.